Tuesday, April 20, 2004

one, two, many Fallujahs
With the fighting around Fallujah now subsided, the question of motive remains. It’s difficult to see any strategic purpose to the conflict. On the one side, it any such aim was obscured by the atavistic logic of vengeance and vendetta, along with almost tribal notions of military honour, blood price and masculine threat display.

One the other side, we know that the Iraqis were fighting to defend their homes.

Mike Davis brings news that a consistent purpose might have been behind the general swirl of events: practice.

The battle of Fallujah, together with the conflicts unfolding in Shiia cities and Baghdad slums, are high-stakes tests, not just of U.S. policy in Iraq, but of Washington's ability to dominate what Pentagon planners consider the "key battlespace of the future" -- the Third World city.

The Mogadishu debacle of 1993, when neighborhood militias inflicted 60% casualties on elite Army Rangers, forced U.S. strategists to rethink what is known in Pentagonese as MOUT: "Militarized Operations on Urbanized Terrain." Ultimately, a National Defense Panel review in December 1997 castigated the Army as unprepared for protracted combat in the near impassable, maze-like streets of the poverty-stricken cities of the Third World.

As a result, the four armed services, coordinated by the Joint Staff Urban Working Group, launched crash programs to master street-fighting under realistic third-world conditions. "The future of warfare," the journal of the Army War College declared, "lies in the streets, sewers, high-rise buildings, and sprawl of houses that form the broken cities of the world."

update: spoke too soon about violence abating in Fallujah. For the record, here's an assessment of modern urban warfare from the professional point of view.